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Is Dhoni India’s greatest Test captain?


MS_Dhoni_India_cricket_CaptainThere were so many facets to talk about post India’s win in the 2nd Test of the ongoing India-Australia series. There was Pujara scoring his second double hundred in 11 Tests. There was Murali Vijay who married patience with succulent stroke play. There was Sehwag who failed to score runs (got dropped eventually). Then there was Clarke and Wade trying to save Australia in the first innings. There was Ravindra Jadeja who quite successfully continued to evolve as a bowler on Indian wickets.

There were two off-spinners who have bettered their chances to play a Test or more. And there was another who now has reached the 81 wicket mark in Test cricket in just 14 games. These performances would be remembered for some time. Meanwhile, Dhoni by winning the Test became the Indian captain to have won most Test matches and on its way had given one more reason for stats-lovers and cricket-fans to talk about one more record.

If the number of matches won as a captain is a benchmark, Dhoni tops the list with 22 wins. Sourav Ganguly comes second with 21 wins from 49 Tests. Mohammad Azharuddin, once adored then criticised with the match fixing involvement features third in that list with 14 wins. I am considering the lesser number of games played and more games won, hence, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi ranks 4th in that list with 9 wins in 40 Tests. And the top 5 list finishes with Sunil Gavaskar’s 9 wins in 47 Tests he captained India in.


Captains Span Mat Won Lost Tied Draw W/L Win %
Home Away Total
MS Dhoni 2008-2013 45 17 5 22 12 0 11 1.83 49%
S Ganguly 2000-2005 49 10 11 21 13 0 15 1.61 43%
M Azharuddin 1990-1999 47 13 1 14 14 0 19 1 30%
MAK Pataudi 1962-1975 40 6 3 9 19 0 12 0.47 23%
S Gavaskar 1976-1985 47 7 2 9 8 0 30 1.12 19%









If one bifurcates the home and away wins, then Sourav Ganguly has an upper-hand over Dhoni with a better away win record. Gavaskar and Azharuddin both have captained India in 47 Tests. While Azhar has just one away victory in his total 14 wins as a captain, the solid opener has two. On the other hand, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi has more number of away wins (3) than the last two. Keeping in mind, the status of Indian cricket in the World Cricket during Pataudi's time, that feat is certainly noteworthy. Although Dravid does not feature in the top 5 list of most wins by an Indian captain, even he has more away wins than home wins on his CV.

The numbers shade light on certain aspects of captaincy. But they alone cannot highlight how effective the captain is or was. For example, Kumble could not come up with too many wins as a captain. But the way team united under him during and after the Sydney-gate, can’t be ignored. Alternatively Dravid's captaincy reign was a logical progression and provided some memorable home and away wins. However, his was perhaps the most stormy stint any Indian captain has had in the recent times. If newspaper briefings and players murmurs in the media were anything to go by, the dressing room during Dravid’s captaincy seemed more divided than before or after; the victories notwithstanding.

So, shall we use the similar parameters to judge every captain? The captain's success, instead of entirely basing it on the number of wins, shall be examined in what situations the captain had taken over the captaincy. For a leader of an organisation that is witnessing huge losses, the ability; first to cut down the losses and then progress shall be a mark of success. For his/her successor, the achievement would be to take that organisation to new heights and earn profits of substantial margins.

The same principle applies to cricket as well. For example, Nasser Hussain's and Sourav Ganguly's success must not be compared to that of Strauss and Dhoni. For Ganguly and Hussain, the job was to take their team out of the ruckus of match fixing aftereffects and a severe dip in a team's performance respectively. For them, the task was to win frequently and along the way win back the fans. With Vaughan and Dravid, who were Hussain and Ganguly’s successors, it was a logical progression in terms of change in captaincy. They with their calmness and a visibly missing ‘in your face’ attitude of their predecessors were the apt choices.

In India, as Dravid resigned, Kumble was appointed as a stop-gap arrangement. And despite not many wins to show besides his name, Kumble united the team. In many ways, such a trait should not be undermined. For Dhoni, Kumble’s successor in Tests and Strauss (in his second shot at the captaincy), the task is to maintain momentum and start rebuilding in the later stages of their captaincy. Strauss built a Test team that could win anywhere in the World. Under Dhoni, after attaining a peak in Tests as well as in ODIs, the team is in a phase of semi-finished transition. Although Strauss no longer plays and Dhoni is amidst his second wind, the beginning points had been similar.

Indian perspective is fierce while deciding (and sometimes downgrading) the better captain. But it would be appreciative of fans to analyse a captain by understanding which style of captaincy was more suited at a given time. It is not that Ganguly or Dhoni would not have succeeded if they were born in different era. However, it would be a great disservice if we judge them purely on the basis of number of wins. It is as much about what a team needs then as it is about who leads.

Stats by: Karna Yajnik

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